The following contains spoilers for the premiere of Invasion on Apple TV+: S1E1 (“Last Day”), S1E2 (“Crash”), and S1E3 (“Orion”)
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
It’s as though someone took all the tropes of an old alien invasion film and slowed them way down. Perhaps this was even the inspiring idea for Invasion, along with its global scope. Time and space in the classic sci-fi stories are too condensed and full of action, which undermines the realism of the narrative, sure, but I would hardly describe Invasion with the term either.
No, it’s not realism which is achieved by the broad frame and the slow pace of this show but a contemplative beauty tinged with a pervasive sense of dread. It’s there in the name, after all—we know what’s going to happen, or is happening, even if the characters don’t.
The tone is set immediately in S1E1 (“Last Day”), less by the cold open in Yemen and more by the credits sequence that follows it. The music that accompanies it is composed by Max Richter, whose work you might be familiar with from The Leftovers. Perhaps this is why comparisons to that series began forming in my head early on as I watched the premiere of Invasion. But here it is not a Sudden Departure our protagonists are grappling with the aftermath of, but a slow motion catastrophe they are in the thick of.
A Sheriff in Oklahoma, an astronaut in Tokyo, a mother and her family in Long Island…of course not everyone makes it out of Episode 1 alive, and it is not until Episode 2 that we get to know others who seem destined to be main players in this story.
No one is quite safe then, as Invasion makes clear by spending as much time introducing us to those it is about to kill off as those who will carry forward. Slowing down the tropes subverts them, making us unsure of exactly what will happen next to whom, though we know that things are going to get worse.
Nothing is more noteworthy to me about Invasion than the sound design, which immerses us in an affective milieu that is not straightforward. The anxiety is nebulous, and there is a musicality not just with regard to Max Richter’s score but in how it blends with ambient noise and is punctuated by moments of explosion.
This is matched by the cinematography, with slow, drawn out beautiful shots, dwelling often on small things. Much like Twin Peaks, virtually any frame of Invasion could be placed in a physical frame and hung on one’s wall, to be aesthetically admired at one’s leisure. This is a far cry from what we frequently get from sci-fi, which is often interested in bombarding us with dazzling effects. Here everything is drawn out, and when we see an alien spacecraft for the first time, it just kind of sits there. And of course the human beings shoot at it.Courtesy of Apple TV+
Invasion seems interested in showing us these events from the perspective of those trying to simply live their lives. Even if Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsuna) works for the Japanese space program, she is more concerned with the woman she loves than with the global events she sees on the news. Casper (Billy Barratt) is busy being bullied by Monty (Paddy Holland) and the Lord of the Flies type situation brewing in the aftermath of the bus crash, and it’s not clear these kids are even aware that anything broader in scale is occurring just yet.
Aneesha Malik (Golshifteh Farahani) has discovered Ahmed (Firas Nassar) has been cheating on her, distracting her focus from the big question of what is happening due to intramarital bickering. Why was their house spared? Surely it has something to do with how Luke (Azhy Robertson) didn’t get a nosebleed, right? It’s the trope of an alien interest in a special child. But so far the Maliks seem content to think they got lucky.
In this regard Trev (Shamier Anderson) almost feels an outlier, but only because his day to day is that of a soldier and he is more inured to disaster in the first place. So even though he has seen a very strange object that is almost obviously an alien spaceship, he is most concerned with finding his men.
The only one who seems truly close to grappling with the real mystery of the large scale events at play in Invasion over the course of its premiere is Sheriff Tyson (Sam Neill), who takes the strangeness of the disappearances he is investigating as potentially a sign from God that this is the big thing he is supposed to do in life.
Years ago, he thought he’d found it when he saved little Gracie, but then she flew out of a car windshield and died before her parade. So it was cancelled and no one remembers. Unfortunately, Tyson’s fate seems to parallel the story he tells about this young girl, as he leaves his retirement ceremony in order to return to the crop circle in the middle of the cornfield, and is apparently killed for his trouble. Last day, indeed.
If the Sheriff makes us think about where God is in all of this, his death indicates nothing but an absence of providence. It’s either a matter of chance and curiosity, or being punished for that curiosity by forces greater than humanity but by no means divine.
This is the fear embodied in the idea of an alien invasion, after all. It is the unpredictability that stems from its otherworldly origin that is central to it. Here we are, going about our lives and caught up in human concerns, when along comes something totally unforeseen, and unforeseeable.
If Invasion is lacking in realism it is to the extent that no one seems nearly distressed enough at the question of just what in the hell is going on. It’s fair enough, for example, that Mitsuki is more concerned with what happened to her beloved in particular, but the personal hooks up to the social and the historical. It’s not somehow just cut off from grander concerns. I would expect Yamato to be all the more distraught by taking Murai’s death as symbolic of something more catastrophic, whereas it starts to feel by the end of “Orion” like the it’s the other way around.
Power outages and cellphone services disruptions in themselves are enough to make it feel like the world is ending at this point, as we have become so reliant on these things as to wholly take them for granted. People in Invasion may be panicked, but the degree to which they are feels off.
It is also unfortunate that, though the series has a global scope, so many of the main characters are American, with even our entry point into the Middle East being a US solider. The scenes in Japan are beautiful and brilliant but if Invasion is meant to buck against predecessors that have explored an alien attack entirely from the point of view of Washington DC, it doesn’t go nearly as far as it could have.
Yet, the closing episode of the premiere, “Orion,” does end in Tokyo and the word that Mitsuki and Kaito (Daisuke Tsuji) hear is not English. It’s the same word that young Luke heard earlier when he plugged his ears and yelled for it to stop. Others couldn’t hear it then, so perhaps we are to take it that the transmission is at an odd frequency that somehow Luke is naturally tuned to, while others need equipment to pin it down.
Regardless, we may ask: why is it saying ‘wajo’?
The most likely referent seems to be the Japanese castles in Korea, as this itself is linked to invasion. But then why is it a point of reference for these aliens?
It’s worth wondering just what they’re after, even if the three episode premiere of Invasion doesn’t give us much to work with. The disruptions in cellular technology and the like may just stem from interference with satellites, after all—or is it purposeful?
All the kids in Luke’s music class get nosebleeds besides him. What about the rest of the kids in the world? Instead of asking why Luke was spared, perhaps we should be asking if he was the target, not just here but in the attack on his neighborhood.
If he is the target, though, they clearly aren’t trying to kill him. Perhaps they are trying to communicate and there are others throughout the world like Luke who can hear them. We don’t know yet.
Is Casper special in some way, perhaps, similar to Luke?
The promotional materials for Invasion mention the events unfolding through the eyes of five ordinary people, but after three episodes I have to admit I am not entirely sure who the five are supposed to be. By my count, I either end up with more or with less. Unless perhaps Sheriff Tyson is one of the five, and he’s not actually dead? Will we end up seeing Sam Neill almost reprising his role from Event Horizon?
I doubt it, but I do hope that the action picks up a bit in Invasion soon. Its style is wonderfully contemplative, and “Last Day,” “Crash,” and “Orion” are all struck through with a deep tension. But at some point that tension will need to break. Then, presumably, the chaos will begin.